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Spring 2021 Sustainability Policy Update

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Mar 1, 2021

The demand for more sustainable homes and buildings has never been higher. According to one recent report, the green and sustainable building industry is becoming the fastest growing industry in the US economy in the coming years. LEED, perhaps the most popular green building certification program, exemplifies this burst in popularity in more sustainable and energy-efficient homes. The number of LEED registered projects in the US rose from 296 certifications in 2006 to over 67,200 in 2018. Other sustainable building certifications are also following this trend. Also, millions of homeowners are implementing energy efficiency upgrades to their homes. They are taking these steps to save money, lower their carbon footprint, and make their homes more comfortable and healthy places to live.

Wind Farm

Undoubtedly, many factors are encouraging and pushing forward this increased demand for green and sustainable buildings. The urgency for meaningful climate action, growing environmental awareness among the population, and more affordable renewable energies are just a few reasons why the environmentally responsible building is going mainstream. Government policy, both local, regional, and national levels, also plays an essential role in making green and sustainable building practices more accessible and open to everyday homeowners.

Most building codes are regulated on a municipal or local level. Therefore it would be impossible to offer a complete review of the sustainable building policies being put into place around the country or the world. However, this article highlights some of the more visionary and progressive green building policies and initiatives moving forward in the United States and Canada, both at the federal and state/provincial levels. We also mention a few worldwide initiatives that are helping to take sustainable building practices to new levels.

What Are New State and Provincial Green Building Policies?

A healthy and prosperous green or sustainable building code can play an essential role in lowering energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging local and recycled building materials, and further adopting alternative and natural building practices. On a state or provincial level, two-building policies - The CALGreen Building Code and the BC Energy Step Code - are helping to increase the economic and resource efficiency of buildings, reduce the effects of climate change, and improve the overall resilience of the built environment.


CALGreen Building Code 

CALGreen is California's first green building code. It is also the first state-mandated green building code in the United States. Though California implemented this code back in 2010, the most recent changes in 2019 have helped advance high efficiency and sustainable buildings in California. Perhaps most impressively, as of January 2020, all new residential construction must meet Zero Net Energy requirements.

Construction Waste

The CALGreen Building code offers several impressive building targets to regulate water conservation, reduced energy use, and other relevant indicators. However, one of the less-discussed (though equally important) measures within the code is a regulation that diverts a minimum of 50 percent construction and demolition (C&D) waste through recycling or salvaging. Increased support for recycling C&D building waste can play a significant role in helping to reduce the embodied energy footprint of the buildings we inhabit.

Unfortunately, most green building legislation is focused primarily on regulating occupational efficiency levels. Lowering energy and water demand is undoubtedly essential. However, our materials in new home construction and large-scale renovation projects also have a significant environmental impact. By requiring the recycling of used building materials, California is reducing pressure on landfills and helping to create a legal standard that can drive down the embodied energy footprint of its homes.

BC Step Code

BC Energy Step Code

In British Colombia, Canada, the BC Energy Step Code is a provincial regulation made available to local governments to help incentivize or require a more ambitious level of energy efficiency in new building construction. This energy code is a prime example of a "stretch" or "reach" energy code that seeks to incentivize or oblige residents of a given jurisdiction to go above and beyond the minimum code requirements. Though this code is still a voluntary measure, it offers a solid framework founded on a series of specific, measurable efficiency targets. These targets are assembled into "steps" that represent increasing levels of energy-efficiency performance. Local governments can adopt this technology, a step-based roadmap, to develop a solid timeline to attain net-zero energy-ready level performance.

The program's steps help local governments, industry stakeholders, utilities, and homeowners discover how to move beyond the BC building code (step 1) as they move progressively through different percentages of increased energy efficiency until they achieve complete net-zero status (step 5). This program requires that builders use state-of-the-art energy software modeling and on-site testing to show that their building standards achieve the desired efficiency level.

House With Solar Panel

What New Federal Green Building Policies Have Launched?

Both Biden's green building policy and the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF) are national programs leading toward more efficient homes.

We dive into each below.

Biden's Green Building Policy

The election of a new administration in the United States will help advance the cause of green building policies. Specifically, Biden has laid out a green building plan focused on the following intended building targets:

Reducing the carbon footprint of US building stock 50 percent by 2035;

  • Upgrading four million buildings and weatherizing two million homes over four years, creating at least one million good-paying jobs; and
  • Spur the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.

It is also expected that the Biden administration will extend the solar tax credit for residential solar panels. This policy would extend the 26 percent federal solar tax credit to help homeowners financially access renewable energy for their homes.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF)

In Canada, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF) is the leading national framework to help the country meet its emissions reduction targets, grow the economy, and build resilience to a changing climate. The plan includes a project to price carbon emissions while furthering green economic growth. 

Regarding the building industry, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change calls for all new buildings in Canada to be Net-Zero Energy Ready by 2030. Specifically, this means that all new building construction will need to follow strict standards for energy efficiency and thermal performance and rely on renewable energy sources to meet the building's total energy needs.

In Canada, as in the United States, building codes are under the jurisdiction of provinces and territories. Unfortunately, many of these regions implement building codes that focus on a "minimum acceptable standard," which is often unambitious in quickly transitioning towards a net-zero energy future. These minimum acceptable standards essentially ensure that the buildings and homes we inhabit will continue to demand enormous amounts of energy and other resources, complicating the transition to a renewable and net-zero energy future.

The Pan-Canadian framework offers a "stretch" model that promotes loftier objectives to meet the necessary and urgent climate goals.

Yellow Light

Which Countries Have New Green Building Policies?

Across the European Union, there is a significant push to decarbonize the economy. Germany and the Scandinavian countries are pushing for increased use of wind, solar, and other renewable energies to replace coal and oil as electricity sources. In the Netherlands, coal was never a significant player in their national electricity grid. However, the Dutch have historically relied more on natural gas than any other European Union country. Even though 90 percent of buildings in the Netherlands are heated and powered by natural gas, the Dutch government has embarked on an ambitious and far-reaching energy transition intended to lead to a complete phase-out of natural gas consumption and production by 2050.

To achieve this goal, the Dutch government is changing the laws regarding homeowner rights. In the past, every house or residence had a legal entitlement to a connection to the national gas grid for heating and power. This law is in the process of being annulled. In its place, every home will have a "right to a heating connection," thus rescinding the rights-based language that propped up the fossil fuel industry. The Dutch government has also specified that every new home constructed will no longer be connected to the existing gas grid to accelerate this transition. The 7 million existing houses will also be gradually disconnected from the gas grid.

In its place, the Dutch gas industry is innovating solutions based on "sustainable gasses" such as hydrogen, biogas, and bio-methane. Other net-zero and renewable energy solutions are also in the works, as the Dutch government aims to transform its energy grid to completely net-zero by 2050.

This initiative is important because it showcases how strict regulations on all new buildings can help push forward the green building movement. By prohibiting new home construction from connecting to existing fossil fuel-based infrastructure, the Dutch government forced the building and energy sectors to accelerate the search for cost-effective and scalable solutions. A similar example of this regulation type is the California decision to require solar panels on all new building construction.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-08-17T19:35:04+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.